Women Beware Women Analysis
In Women Beware Women, Thomas Middleton uses a series of shifting relationships to demonstrate the destructive power of obsessive and inconstant love.
Leantio loves his new wife Bianca, but his love is obsessive. He tells his mother to keep her in the house because he sees her as his treasure and possession; he is worried that she will leave him if others know about her. Unfortunately, the Duke of Florence sees Bianca and falls for her. He plots with Livia, a friend, to meet her and woo her. Ultimately, he uses his position and power to convince her that she should enter an affair with him.
This relationship is the base for the tragedies that happen during the rest of the play. Because Bianca is with a powerful man, Leantio cannot fight it. He has to accept it. In response, he begins an affair with Livia. When this is revealed and Leantio is killed, her rage causes her to reveal that she tricked her niece Isabella into entering an incestuous sexual relationship with Isabella's uncle.
The people in the play love selfishly. Hippolito claims to love his niece in the way that he would love a wife, but he does not mind Livia tricking Isabella into beginning an incestuous affair. The Duke of Florence never says he loves Bianca, but he still urges her to be with him despite her married state. Leantio says he loves Bianca, but he wants to trap her inside so that he can keep her. Livia says she loves Leantio but then plots to kill her family members once he is killed because he used their relationship to try to hurt Bianca and the Duke of Florence.
Ultimately, everyone plans to get revenge on everyone else, and most of the cast is killed.
At the end of the play, the Cardinal—one of the only surviving characters—points out that passion and lust can bring down entire dynasties because those drives are so powerful.
*Florence. City in the Tuscany region that was one of Italy’s main centers of culture and political intrigue in the seventeenth century. The main plot’s adulterous triangle derives from an actual Florentine scandal surrounding an unfaithful Venetian bride. Although Middleton’s Venetian source sympathized with Bianca, Middleton himself does not blame her fall entirely on Florence’s immorality. However, he does suggest living in an alien city whose inhabitants she describes as “all strangers to me, Not known but by their malice,” made her more vulnerable to seduction.
Widow’s house. Home to which Leantio, in the opening scene, brings his stolen Venetian bride, intending to hide the “treasure” of her beauty “under this plain roof.” In the first striking use of upper-and lower-stage dynamics, a window in this house displays Bianca to the duke, below, riding to St. Mark’s Temple. Soon afterward, Bianca despises both fidelity and the poverty of her mother-in-law’s house.
Lady Livia’s house
Lady Livia’s house. Home in a higher-class milieu, dominating the second and third acts, where both Bianca and her subplot counterpart, Isabella, are betrayed into sexual corruption by Livia. Here, in an even more dramatic counterpoint of upper-and lower-stage actions, Middleton has the duke rape Bianca in an alcove while, below them, Livia defeats the mother-in-law in a chess game that clearly parallels the sexual “game” upstairs. Here Livia also facilitates her brother’s incestuous affair with their niece, while simultaneously promoting Isabella’s loveless marriage to a lascivious idiot. Although fashionable, Livia’s home resembles a house of prostitution.
Duke’s court. Palatial and decadent setting for the play’s last two acts, in which luxury, lust, and treachery prove fatal for six sinners. In the final scene, a masque...
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